Joan Armatrading, Moon: Hammersmith Odeon, London

MOON GET better weekly. Disciplined, tight, colourful but most important eager to please. They got an encore. Between their leaving the stage and Joan Armatrading taking it there elapsed a gap of an hour and a quarter, which is an awful long time. Just ask the few people who got fed up and left.

When the safety curtain was finally heaved away and her three man band hit the opening line of ‘Join The Boys’ just that nervous shade too fast, the lady actually strutted on stage as if she had not a care in the world. Wherever the faltering apologetic live performer of last year has gone, she certainly wasn’t there on Thursday night.

Subbing for her was a singer obviously fully aware that her time has come and this time there’s no going back. If any confirmation were needed, the Anfield roar that carried from the stalls on her entrance amply provided it and the tenor of the next hour or so was definitively set by just how pleased that audience was to see her.

As musical events go it was good but not remarkably good. As a ceremonial it was a rare experience. For once audience and performer were galvanised into one of those rare expressions of unity and common purpose in which the noises are less important than the gestures and the simple thrill of being there.

That she could re-enter the London concert circuit trailing such clouds of glory is a tribute not only to the brilliance of her third album and the conviction of her record company but, most impressively, to the uncanny way she has formed and magnetised an audience that wasn’t there before.

Very liberated lesbian couples, serious looking men in their 30s and collars and ties, soul men, rock and rollers, a smattering of pseuds and more women than I’ve ever seen at a comparable gig, anywhere — all seemingly drawn less by her considerable musical talents than by an electric sympathy with what she’s singing about.

It could well be that she’s getting through to more people more strongly than anyone else currently working.

The problems with the actual performance lay mainly with the sound reproduction. Her voice was consistently fated to pitch next to Pat Donaldson’s bass and lose itself there, the three back up singers were inaudible and occasionally invisible while Jerry Donahue seemed to have more to do than even his versatility should have to cope with.

However he managed to reproduce the sound of steel guitar, piano and the odd fiddle without technical trickery or batting an eyelid, while Mattacks was his indefatigable funky self, all quizzical looks and immaculately timed fills. They played well and she sang well; it just didn’t quite get through as it should have, lacking the breadth and tonal range that Glyn Johns gave her album.

But that all became irrelevant when she sang the opening line of ‘Love And Affection’, about not being in love but open to persuasion. Everyone in that house was with her first to last. A young woman in front of me leaned forward, distractedly biting her knuckle, eyes wide open in concentration, as if that oddly ebullient figure on stage was living out part of her life for her.

That particular song is going to be a hit if it takes years. She ran through all of the album, a couple of earlier numbers, a couple of new things, ground her way through ‘Tall In The Saddle’ and was gone.

‘Back In The Night’ was the obligatory encore. Then off again. The applause slowly faded and people headed for the exits. Then somewhere, a lone voice rattled for more and others took it up, culminating in clapping, chanting and stamping of feet.

She had to come back. Whether they repeated ‘Love And Affection’ because they’d exhausted their repertoire I don’t know. I like to think it’s because it’s destined to become a standard and to a lot of people it will come to mean Joan Armatrading. A success is born.

© David HepworthNew Musical Express, 2 October 1976

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